The Roman Catholic Church believes that salvation is communicated through a priesthood. The priests administer seven sacraments which impart “saving grace” so long as no hindrance is brought about by the recipient.
First, baptism, which is administered to infants. When a child is baptized, an “infusion of grace” is poured into the child’s soul. Subsequently, if the child cooperates with that grace by doing righteous things, he is justified by God (He is declared righteous by God).
Second, Confirmation, which occurs at the transition from childhood to adulthood, at which time the grace received at baptism is confirmed.
Third, Penance, which is for those who commit a mortal sin and lose the saving grace they received in baptism. They can be restored to a state of justification through penance. By confessing their sins to a priest, they receive absolution, after which they must perform works of satisfaction to be justified again.
Fourth, Matrimony, which provides the couple with new grace and strength necessary to grow in the marital union.
Fifth, Holy Orders, which is bestowed upon priests at their ordination and which empowers them to administer saving grace to others through the sacraments – especially the power to offer the prayer of consecration, by which the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
Sixth, Last Rites (anointing the sick), which is designed to impart grace to someone on the brink of death to heal the soul and prepare it for judgment. All sins not purified in this life are purified in purgatory.
THE PROTESTANT VIEW
Christ has instituted only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sacraments (sacred ceremonies) are signs (symbols) and seals (guarantees) of God’s saving grace to all believers. They are visible guarantees to all believers that they have all the spiritual benefits of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Since the sacraments symbolize (dramatize) God’s promise of salvation to believers in Christ crucified, they should never be administered without first preaching God’s promise of salvation to all who believe in Christ crucified.
The sacraments benefit only those who have faith in Christ. Just because one is baptized does not mean one is saved. One who partakes of the Lord’s Supper without faith in Christ will receive Christ’s judgment (1 Cor. 11:27-32).
[Adapted from R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian]